PHILADELPHIA - Needing a win to earn a bye, the Philadelphia Eagles played their worst game of the season.
They don't have any time to dwell on it.
Instead of taking this week off and waiting for a second-round opponent, the Eagles (11-5) must quickly get ready for a rematch at Dallas (11-5) in an NFC wild-card playoff Saturday night.
A 24-0 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday dropped the Eagles from the No. 2 seed to the sixth spot, making their road to the Super Bowl much tougher. Now Philadelphia has to win three straight road games just to get to the Big Game in Miami next month.
"They were the better team yesterday," Eagles coach Andy Reid said Monday. "You don't hide that fact.
"They played better than we played. They coached better than we coached. You get back to business and you do it in a very matter-of-fact way. If you get caught up in all the what ifs and this and that, then you're making a mistake. We don't have time for that. It's a hurried-up week and you have to get right back on the horse and figure out how to not get bucked off again."
The Eagles had won six straight games heading into Dallas and looked like strong contenders to reach the Super Bowl. But the Cowboys exposed all of Philadelphia's deficiencies in a dominant performance.
An offence that set a franchise record for points this season was shut out for the first time in four years. Donovan McNabb misfired on a couple key passes, several balls were dropped and there was a costly turnover inside the red zone.
Defensively, the Eagles couldn't stop the run and allowed Tony Romo to convert big plays to his receivers.
"The first thing you have to do is evaluate the problems with the players and the coaches and you have to make sure you correct those," Reid said. "If you're going to get better, you can't hide those facts.
"We'll make sure we get it corrected."
Dallas won 20-16 in Philadelphia on Nov. 8. With the NFC East title at stake, the Cowboys were ready to go from the start while the Eagles played like a team that was using its bye one week early.
Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, the Eagles had a chance to tie it when DeSean Jackson sprinted past defenders on a deep route. But McNabb overthrew the Pro Bowl wide receiver. In the same drive, Jeremy Maclin let a slightly off-target throw go through his hands on third down with only the end zone in front of him.
Down 14-0, Philadelphia drove to the Cowboys 14. But new centre Nick Cole's shotgun snap was low and McNabb couldn't recover the fumble.
"We had many opportunities that we didn't capitalize on," McNabb said. "There were a lot of mistakes, miscues that will cost you in a game like this with so much on the line.
"We do come back next week. We have to watch the film and understand what we did wrong. Those situations, you have to correct them right now because it's do or die in the playoffs. We've been through it many times. This is the time you have to elevate and bring your A game every week."
Despite losing twice to the Cowboys, the Eagles have some odds in their favour. They are 7-0 in their first playoff game under Reid. Meanwhile, the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since 1996. They are 0-2 with Romo.
Though a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the second round would've significantly increased Philadelphia's hopes of reaching the Super Bowl, getting there as the No. 6 seed isn't impossible. Two of the past four Super Bowl champions - the New York Giants (2007) and Pittsburgh (2005) - won it all as a sixth seed.
The Eagles nearly did it themselves last year. They overcame daunting odds just to get in the playoffs, routing Dallas 44-6 in an elimination game in Week 17. Philadelphia then knocked off Minnesota and the Giants on the road and were favourites at Arizona in the NFC title game. But the Cardinals rallied for a 32-25 victory after blowing a 24-6 lead.
Of course, the Eagles' chances as the No. 2 seed would've been far better. Four No. 2 seeds - New England (2001, 2004), Tampa Bay (2002) and Pittsburgh (2008) - won the Super Bowl in the past 10 years, which is more than any of the other seeds.
"I'm excited. After what they did to us, I can't wait to come back here," tight end Brent Celek said. "After getting whooped like that, we want to prove we weren't the team that showed up here today. They kind of put us in our place. They woke us up."